Permafrost and Environmental Change (F8023A)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

Permafrost regions are among the most sensitive to environmental change. The climates of northern Alaska, Canada and Russia are warming more rapidly than almost all other regions on Earth. Such warming is causing major changes in the earth-surface conditions:

  • permafrost is warming and disappearing
  • frozen peatlands are degrading
  • wetlands are replacing some boreal forest and treeline is advancing northward into the Arctic.

The study of such phenomena therefore provides an important indication of the magnitude and rate of environmental change – a yardstick to evaluate the effects of global warming.

This module examines present and past permafrost regions from an interdisciplinary perspective, linking permafrost science with physical geography, geology, ecology and quaternary science. After introducing the general nature of permafrost regions and their vegetation and soils, the module examines several important themes spanning scientific, engineering and resource issues, focusing particularly on modern permafrost in the Arctic and past permafrost in the mid-latitudes. The aim is to provide you with a framework of knowledge and understanding of earth-surface processes and environmental change in permafrost regions. This framework will allow you to summarise and critically evaluate some of the methods, hypotheses and data about such regions. A secondary aim is to consider the problems and solutions associated with economic development and land management on permafrost terrain.


92%: Lecture
8%: Practical


60%: Coursework (Problem set, Report)
40%: Examination (Distance examination)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 48 hours of contact time and about 252 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: